Special to The Sun
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi visited Edmond Public Schools Friday as part of her “Raise the Grade” tour.
After visiting Memorial High School and Orvis Risner and West Field grade schools, Barresi sat down with legislators, board members, district administrators, parents, teachers and students for a roundtable discussion answering questions posed by attendees.
In addition to educational funding, which is constantly at the forefront, Barresi said a task force will begin meeting in August to discuss addressing the fact that fewer teachers are going into the education field as large numbers of teachers are retiring.
“We are looking at a critical shortage in special education, sciences and world language teachers,” Barresi said. “We know teachers go into teaching because they are passionate about teaching children. We must make it cool to teach. Young (adults) today are passionate about making a difference in young people’s lives. We must look at recruiting and retaining.”
Barresi said one thing that might be considered would be to take a look at veteran teachers and get them back into the classroom for an interim amount of time.
Nancy Goosen, director of special services for Edmond Public Schools, said it costs $22 million to run the special education department and the school district receives $3.9 million.
“We cannot educate children with money coming from the education department,” Goosen said. “We must come together as a community in Oklahoma and share available services.”
Barresi agreed with Goosen and went on to say there needs to be a focus on mental illness and that it is the responsibility of the community. Social workers and more school counselors who can teach educators the warning signs of students who are suffering from mental illness are necessary, Barresi said.
“To hire an additional 500 counselors would cost the state $16 million for the start up fee alone,” Barresi said. “We need a strategy to begin. Counselors are so very valuable.”
Barresi said technology has two critical issues. The No. 1 issue is students need access to high quality digital learning and infrastructure needs must be addressed including the fact that districts must have connectivity, band width and technology devices.
“In the next six years our technology need will go up exponentially,” Barresi said. “We are going to need a significant investment.”
Barresi said as changes are being made in testing over the next few years the state will be turning from a low level memory test to a higher level testing of cognitive skills where answers are written.
“Teachers are now teaching to a memory test, but with PARCC assessment, testing will now become a tool,” Barresi said. “The question will no longer be, ‘Did he pass?,’ but more of, ‘What did he learn?’”
PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
“We will be working to make assessments more of what is needed to go in life, to deal with real life problems,” Barresi said.
Edmond Superintendent David Goin said with lengthier testing answers will come the need for more keyboarding skills as well as more technology devices.
Barresi said she is impressed with what is coming along, not just content knowledge but cognitive thinking skills, creativity, thinking and listening.
Students will see an increase in seat-time for testing, Barresi said. “Students must read, understand, formulate and be able to put down on paper. Writing is the essence of showing they are learning how to think.”
Barresi said Oklahoma has the shortest testing time of other states as well as one of the shortest instructional years.
While taking steps to address problems within the Oklahoma education system, Barresi said the State Department of Education will be starting with two task forces this summer.
“One task force will be addressing teacher shortages and one will be for testing.”